Saturday, August 28, 2010

I love paperback originals. Am I alone?

Maybe the bookstore police will get me for saying this, but I just love to see books come out as paperback originals. And I've been thinking lately, could paperback originals save publishing? Or at least help a little bit?

The Other Press is a lovely independent publishing company that has been putting out beautiful trade paperback originals. Titles like The Glass Room and The Quickening have been great sellers for us. I think part of the reason is that though the authors are not big names, customers are willing to take a chance on a paperback that is less expensive. Every bookseller can attest to the number of times a stack of hardcover debut novels comes in, books that may be absolutely wonderful but don't receive much publicity, and are left to languish on the shelves untouched. Customers are hesitant to take a chance, when the chance costs upward of $30.

Certainly books from blockbuster authors will sell hundreds of thousands of copies in hardcover. And clearly we should not mess with that winning formula. But what about literary fiction from debut authors? I say bring on the paperback originals, especially when they are as lovely as the books The Other Press has been putting out. Giving paperback originals extras like exquisite covers, deckled edges and French flaps has transformed plain old paperbacks into collectible pieces of book art.

The AAP numbers recently released for June lend support to this idea. Adult hardcover sales are down 13.9% and adult paperback sales are up 0.9%. Paperback sales aren't up by much, but if they're not down that seems like a success in today's physical book-selling climate. I think everyone in the industry agrees that big changes are needed. And I realize that the profit margin is higher with a hardcover, and that there is a lot about publishing I don't understand. I also realize that there is some stigma for authors whose books aren't released first in hardcover (though this seems totally lame to me--does the binding really matter? Aren't we concerned about what's between the covers?). But with some tweaking, and maybe a change in perception, is a combination of more paperback originals to hardcovers a formula that could work? I think the idea merits more research.

I'm looking forward to selling two of The Other Press' new books when they come out this fall, Mr. Toppit and The Wrong Blood. These will be easy hand sells, because they're great books and, to be perfectly honest, because they only cost $14.95.

1 comment:

  1. Black Cat is another publisher I forgot to mention which puts out lovely paperback originals. Purge and The Hole We're In were two of my favorite books this year. They are both off-beat, unique pieces of fiction done in very lovely French flaps and deckled edges. And both have been great hand-sells for me.